On June 8, 1995, Ontario voters took a sharp turn to the right when they elected Mike Harris as Premier of the province. Harris and his Progressive Conservative party replaced the socialist democratic government of Bob Rae. The NDP unexpectedly swept to power in 1990, but things had not gone well. Ontario was hit with a recession and the NDP seemed to struggle with switching from an opposition party to a governing party.
Mike Harris and the PC party campaigned on a platform called the Common Sense Revolution. He promised to cut welfare rates and introduce something called workfare. Workfare would make all able-bodied welfare recipients work for their benefit cheques. During the campaign he pledged that a conservative government would restore independence, dignity and hope to those trapped on welfare.
Harris also promised to cut income taxes by 30 per cent. He would pay for the tax cuts by trimming government spending. Harris went so far as to promise that he would resign if the conservatives didn’t balance the province’s budget within its first four-year term.
After Harris was elected he appointed an 18 member cabinet which was the smallest cabinet in 30 years. The previous NDP government had 26 cabinet ministers. Some of the new cabinet ministers were political rookies and they quickly got into hot water.
Social Services Minister David Tsbouchi told people on welfare that they could deal with his cuts by purchasing dented cans of tuna. He also released a “welfare diet” which instructed welfare recipients how to live on $90 worth of food a month.
Education Minister John Snobolen also stepped in it when he was taped in a meeting saying that his ministry should invent a crisis so that it would be easier to implement changes to the system.
The first year of the Common Sense Revolution was marked with protest after protest and some of them were violent. Protestors stormed the doors to the legislature during the governments first throne speech forcing police to lock down the building. When Ontario civil services workers walked off the job a police riot squad used batons to push back pickets so that MPPs could get into work.
Opposition MPP Alvin Curling also staged a sit-in inside the legislature refusing to vote on a controversial Omni-bus bill put forward by the government. When the Sergeant-At-Arms tried to eject Curling, he refused to leave. Other MPP’s formed a circle around him so that he could not be removed. The sit-in lasted 18 hours until the government agreed to hold public hearings on the bill.